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MC How-To

Step by step: From general maintenance to complete restorations, we share tips and tricks for working on classic bikes.


Beginning a Triumph Bonneville Restoration

Editor’s Introduction:
As many classic bike fans can tell you, when it comes to learning about wrenching on your own bike, there’s an ocean of experience out there to swim in. Our little corner of the universe is rich with people who have learned everything you could ever want to know about keeping your 1971 Honda CB750 or 1955 Harley-Davidson Hummer on the road. And while we all benefit immensely from the wisdom of practiced hands, there’s much to learn from the neophyte restorer, the person just launching their personal discovery of classic bike ownership. Jenn Lankford has just started her own voyage down this path, and when she alerted us to her blog at http://www.bonneville-experiment.com/ we knew we wanted to share her experience restoring a 1972 Triumph T120V Bonneville with the rest of the old bike community. When she started this blog, Jenn’s restoration was still very much in the early stages. She aims to share her successes and travails as she takes her Triumph from a box of bits to finished, running machine. There’s much to learn following Jenn’s jump into the vintage bike hobby, so read along and enjoy. – Richard Backus, Editor-in-Chief, Motorcycle Classics. This blog was first posted in June 2010.


Triumph PartsIf you love classic bikes and want to see them on the road for years to come, do us all a favor and pass on your wisdom. Please.

I was raised on vintage British bikes as a kid, but didn't have a bike of my own until a couple of years ago when I picked up a 1974 Honda CL360, just to have something to quell my need to ride and be able to putt around town. When I ran into some wiring trouble last year, I was at a loss. I knew it was simple but I didn't know what to do, and certainly didn't want to pay a mechanic labor prices knowing that the cost to fix it would be more than the worth of the bike itself. But to my surprise, I found a co-op motorcycle shop in my area called Re-Cycle, where you can learn how to fix your bike yourself. For free. It was a dream come true, and in only a few Sundays I had her running as good as new again, by my own hand. As a newbie to the wrenching world the satisfaction of riding my bike away after fixing her myself was absolutely exhilarating and kicked off the best addiction of my life so far.

Now, I’m beginning the restoration (or “custovation” as I like to call it) of a 1972 Triumph T120V, which my Triumph enthusiast father gave me as a basket case last month. I took the plunge and accepted. With no mechanical background besides Sundays at Re-Cycle (and ignoring Dad in the garage as a kid), but with the confidence I've gained over the last few months of wrenching, I'm committed and determined to build this bike from the ground up, to the finest condition possible. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for other motorcycle lovers passing the love of restoration down to me.

A powder-coated frame and probably 85 percent of a complete bike, my first restoration has a mind of her own and already has taken over my every thought. After hours upon hours of polishing the wheels and hubs, rebuilding and polishing the front brake, making makeshift tools for removing parts that no real tool has been made for, I’m ready to take on lacing my own spokes. The plan is to get the rolling chassis together first. Wheels finished, forks rebuilt, and all put on the frame. In the meantime, I’m looking for various engine parts so the engine can be rebuilt. Patience is a must. I’m learning that disassembly, cleaning and polishing can take far longer than the actual assembly of any part, but the elbow grease I put into everything now will make a major impact on the finished product…despite how anxious I am to start seeing this Bonneville resurrected. 

Despite its complexity, I’ve learned that motorcycle restoration really isn't all that complicated. It’s a lesson in taking huge problems and breaking them down to the most simple sub-problems. After all, even the most lofty goals in life can be achieved by putting one foot in front of the other, taking one step at a time, and stepping away for a moment when things get frustrating. There’s always a solution. No other hobby has ever been more obviously metaphorical for life or personal growth than building a motorcycle. I expect to break down in tears when she finally starts and I get her on the road.

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast and you want these bikes to stay on the road for years to come, you might consider opening your garage to someone with a classic bike that won’t run, but has an interest in learning.  There are plenty of people out there (and bikes rotting in backyards and garages) that would love the opportunity to experience this process. – Jenn Lankford